The Path to Self-Control

I’ve been enjoying and old book called The Children for Christ, by Andrew Murray. Being over 100 years old, these daily readings on godly parenting are sometimes slow going, but I’m also discovering some great nuggets of wisdom.

These words on the fifth commandment are especially relevant to our day:

“Man was created free that he might obey; obedience is the path to liberty.

“On this point parents often err; they often say that to develop the will of the child the will must be left free, and the child left to decide for himself. They forget that the will of the child is not free—passion and prejudice, selfishness and ignorance, seek to influence the child in the wrong direction…

“But are we not in danger of repressing the healthy development of a child’s moral powers by thus demanding implicit submission to our will? By no means. The true liberty of the will consists in our being master of it, and so our own masters. Train a child to master his will in giving it up to his parents’ command, and he acquires the mastery to use when he is free. Yielding to a parent’s control is the path to self-control, and self-control alone is liberty.

“The child who is taught by a wise parent to honour him and his superior wisdom will acquire, as he gives up his own way, the power over his will, as he never can who is taught to imagine that he need do nothing unless the parent has first convinced him of the propriety of the act, and obtained his consent.”

Andrew Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 111-112.

This inspires me to recommit to requiring first-time obedience from my little ones. Besides learning obedience to both their earthly and their heavenly Father now, my children are acquiring the tools needed to make their own decisions and live in obedience to God long after they have left my home.

From Obedience to Passion

From-obedience-to-passion

It seems that, at least in my generation, there is a very strong emphasis on passion: on living sold-out, in love, passionate about a relationship with Jesus. It’s not about rules or religion: it’s about a relationship.

There is, no doubt, a great deal of truth to this. Many current books have been written, songs released, sermons preached on the importance of clinging, not to an ideology, but to a Person. Relationship, passion, love.

To be honest, though, I struggle with this concept of faith. I butt up against this image of a Creator who wants us to just be passionately “in love” with Him, and passionate about seeing others in love with Him. As a man not given often given to strong or enduring emotions, I find it difficult to come to that place of passionately pursuing God, of desiring only Him and His word.

Don’t misunderstand me: I love the Lord and want to know Him and His word. But it seems that, perhaps, in our Christian culture, sometimes we may put a new face on legalism, based not on a set of rules, but the strength of a person’s emotions regarding their faith. We venerate those who become visibly excited, who speak of being in love with Jesus, who want to go “all out” or live “sold out,” who want to make a bold and courageous demonstration for the sake of Christ.

What I want to postulate, though, is that perhaps our energies are misdirected when we seek to live passionately for God. Perhaps we are missing some of what it means to be a follower of Christ when we focus primarily on being in love with Jesus. What about those, like me, who struggle to even maintain a regular quiet time and active prayer life? I’m not suggesting that we do away with passion, or with seeking to fall “in love” with Jesus every day; I’m merely suggesting that it is not the place to start.

C.S. Lewis used to encourage new believers who wrote him letters regarding the emotions that they thought should surround their conversion experience. Many did not experience the joy or surge of love for the Lord that others had found so readily. His advice, I think, applies not only to the new believer, but also to those of us who sometimes feel like we’re just plodding along, seeking the Lord but not feeling “on fire”: he told them, only obey. Obey what Christ commanded, and if God wills for special joy and emotions to follow, then they will. If not, remember, we are called only to heed His voice and follow.

And that, I think, is perhaps where the mark is missed. I’ve read, and heard, often that obedience should not be cumbersome or difficult because of the love we should bear toward Jesus. But what if our love for God, for His ways, grows out of our obedience, not the other way around? What if, instead of seeking first to feel the way we should toward God, we seek first to act the way we should toward God?

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminds us, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more… For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

God is not concerned that we first feel like loving Him, and feel like serving others or sharing His gospel: God is first concerned that we choose to obey Him, knowing that, as we follow step by step in obedience to Him, we grow to understand that, as for God, His way is perfect (Psalm 18:30), and He is not slow in keeping His promises (2 Peter 3:9). When we follow first in obedience, then we experience His joy,  because we see that the results are just as He promised. And our love grows, our passion grows, our obedience grows.

So pursue God wholeheartedly. Live with passion. Seek Him first in all things. But remember that zeal for His name, for His house, for His heart, for His word, come first through obedience.

Boys and Integrity

Boys-and-integrity

The evening was coming to an end and so were my wits. My oldest was crying in her room. As I went to see what was wrong, my son scurries out of the room avoiding eye contact with me, leaping into bed with guilt dragging behind him. I ask her what he did and in between gasps of air she belts out, “He’s exasperating me!” I ask her how he’s exasperating her and she proceeds to explain he sold her a pen for a dollar and now wants another dollar after she had already given him the money.

I call him into the room.

He peers ever so slowly from around the corner. His head is down. Our eyes barely meet.

He tells me this is true of what happened.

He’s hardly remorseful and more concerned that he didn’t get more than what he sold it to his sister for.

The words, “You need to give your sister back the money she paid for the pen…and she’s keeping the pen too,” rolled off of my tongue.

You would have thought I took all of his toys and burned them with the look I received from him.

I explained the meaning of integrity and what it means to keep your word. I explained there are few men who have it and having integrity is a noble characteristic.

I want him to know what integrity is. I want integrity to be his best friend. I want it to be my best friend too. I turn to him and give him permission as man to man that he can call me out on anything that I’m not doing with integrity.

It’s a two-way street.

I have seen men fall from high places from a lack of integrity. And no man is above falling.

I want my son to know I have his back. And I want him to have mine.

If he loses everything and has God and integrity, then he really hasn’t lost anything at all.

Finding Meaning in Work


I aspire, as I’m sure you do, to instill in my sons a strong work ethic. To take seriously the call of the apostle Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

God has called us to work hard, to put our all into everything that we do, doing it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In the context of Colossians 3, Paul is describing the marks of the Christian life, the list of things we are to “put on” after we have “put off” sin. A strong work ethic, a life which moves away from inactivity or laziness, should be a distinctive feature in the life of every follower of Christ. This call to work hard is sandwiched between two commands for us to express thankfulness to God. Without extrapolating too far, I think it’s safe to say that God has given us the privilege of working: that even though the work we do may not be fulfilling to us, it is a gift from God to be able to work, to accomplish and succeed. Work is a gift.

Finding-meaning-in-work

To be frank, I don’t always (or often) recognize that. Perhaps, like me, you’re in a job that’s got nothing to do with your training or abilities, that is seemingly menial or insignificant. A job that just (sort of) pays the bills. A job that you do just because, well, you need to work.

How do you give thanks for that?

At the beginning of time, when God first created the world, He instituted work for man: tend the garden, see to it, work the ground. I can only assume that this work brought satisfaction to Adam, the first man. I can only imagine the feeling of accomplishment he experienced after a day of labor, tending to the garden in which God had placed him. Of course, Adam and Eve sinned, and work became difficult, even painful, for mankind.

Maybe you feel that difficulty every day of your work life. Maybe your work seems trivial, or your circumstances stifling. Maybe your job isn’t enough to cover your bills each month. Take heart; you are not called to be successful, or to be fulfilled by your work, or even to enjoy it. Only to offer it to God. To work at it with all your heart, as working to the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes, that is a small comfort, or perhaps no comfort at all. But if Scripture tells us one thing throughout its entire narrative about work, it’s that God rewards faithfulness. To the one who is faithful in the small things, He entrusts the greater things.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about work in the past few years is this: No work is meaningless. Even if it’s cleaning pools, finishing basements, being a security guard (all of which I’ve done), or something else that doesn’t display significant results. No work is meaningless.

That is, if it is rendered to God. If it is done for His glory, seeking His ends and how He would use us in whatever situation we find ourselves. God is not concerned with the title of our position; He is concerned with the position of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).

One final note, something that hit me only yesterday. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He looked at His work and declared it good. The results of His work were good: they were worthwhile and significant. Do you know, fellow father, that no matter our jobs, we can say the same thing for our work? When we strive to bring God the glory through our work, when we work without complaining (Philippians 2:14), when we offer our work as a sacrifice to God…

We can look at the most difficult, or insignificant, or overwhelming task, and say that it is good.

 

To God Be The Glory

To-God-be-the-glory

This month, I have been on an amazing journey with God. My wife and I are beginning a book by A.W. Tozer that challenges us to look beyond our man-made view of God and seek to know His greatness. As I read, I felt very convicted that I am guilty of my man-made view of who God is. Because of this, I am on a quest to catch a glimpse of the glory of God.

You see, anytime we put limits on God, we are falling into the idolatry of making a god in our own image of who we think He should be. How can I tell if I have done this? I just need to take a look at where I spend my time, how I seek my own comforts, how I look for someone to blame when things do not go according to my plan.

When we place our focus on the magnificence of God, the other things take their rightful place in our lives. God is forgiveness, so what does forgiveness challenge me to do? If God is merciful, how am I supposed to show mercy? If God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, how am I supposed to love my wife sacrificially? If God is patient with me (His child) then where is my patience towards those children He has entrusted me to raise?

The glory of God is greater than our universe. There is nowhere that He is not. (Read Psalms 139:1-18. David understood this.) His presence fills every place where I am. With each breath I breath, I take in His glory and inspiration. Should not I breath out His praise?

The beauty of the quest I am on is that God is not hidden. When we praise Him, He is here with us. When we are troubled, He is here to comfort us. God is at work in our lives constantly. The question I have challenged myself with is, will I seek to see God at work? Not just live out a mundane existence and deny His fellowship, but look today, in expectation, to what God is doing all around me?

My sons need me to truthfully seek the glory and presence of the Lord. I need a genuine, daily, expectant relationship with God, and my boys need to see me live that out. I am challenged that just giving God a passing acknowledgement in my days is idolatry, and I am teaching my children to bow before an idol of my making. God desires so much more from us. We need so much more from Him than we can ever imagine.

My accountability partner agreed with the challenge I feel, but then he asked…

“How do we get there?”

Great question. Seeking the greatness of God is a lofty goal. One that is too big to fulfill in this life. So what are your thoughts? If you are on this journey, where are you headed? What has God shown you in your quest to see God?

To God be the glory!

Dads as Yardage Finders

I have been playing golf for almost 30 years now. I started at an early age and have loved the game and the life lessons it teaches. I was playing in a tournament with three friends the other day, and I noticed that all of them had one thing in their bags that I didn’t: a yardage finder. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it is a binocular-like device that tells you a number of things about your upcoming shot. It is a great device, and is very helpful to have around. As I went through our round, I began to think about all the parallels this device has with being a father.

Yardage-Finder

1) The yardage finder tells its player the yardage to the front of the green, the back of the green, and the pin, but the player still has to swing the club. We can teach as much as we want, but our kids still have to make the decisions. This places the utmost importance on how and what we teach our children.

2) The yardage finder warns the player of dangers that might lie ahead on that particular hole. Dads must make sure their children are aware of the dangers of making poor decisions and help them avoid certain dangerous situations.

3) The yardage finder helps the player understand the distances and the layout of the course. Dads must make God’s Word the ultimate guide in our homes. Our children must also be taught how to apply the lessons learned to everyday life.

4) The yardage finder’s purpose is ultimately the end of the round. The goal of the yardage finder is to help the player finish with the best possible score. Dads must always be thinking with the end in mind. We must disciple our children and teach them to be life-ready so that they can launch into their next season of life in the best way possible.

Hopefully, we all can take lessons from a modern-day device and apply the lessons learned to be more strategic and intentional in parenting. It is so easy for dads to get stuck in the mundane routine of life and not think about the bigger picture. Without that yardage finder, I would really have to guess about how far I have to hit the ball. Dads, we cannot leave our sons to guess about what it means to be a godly man and how that fleshes out on a daily basis, both now and in the future. It is up to us to cast and model the vision of godly manhood for our boys. I pray that we all will step up and meet this important challenge. Don’t let let your son guess about his yardage anymore!

Twelve Ways to be a Strong Man

Twelve-ways-to-be-a-strong-man

When I was a teenager, wiser men would tell me “Life just keeps going faster. You’ll never be less busy than you are now. Make the most of it.”

I believed them, even though I thought I was working pretty hard at the time, and I wondered what those future, “faster” years would feel like when I got there.

Now I’m almost thirty (how did that happen?), and I suspect that life still hasn’t reached full speed, but it’s definitely getting faster. Now there are more responsibilities, more relationships, more decisions to make, and more work to be done.

You’re probably in the same boat.

As a husband, you have a wife depending on you for love and leadership.

As a father, you have children depending on you for guidance and protection.

As an employee or entrepreneur, you have co-workers and/or customers who depend on you to do your best work.

As a Christian, you’re part of the body of Christ, with others depending on you to love and serve them in varying ways.

Add to these roles any other responsibilities that weigh on you every day, and this all adds up to a heavy load to carry. It’s hard to keep up with everything. It’s easy to get tired.

That’s why we need the strength that only God can give.

As Christians, we have a relationship with the God of the universe, who is the source and model of all strength. Also, in God’s Word, we have a clear definition of true strength and many godly examples of strong men we can emulate.

As my wife and I have studied strength in the Bible, we have been amazed at how much encouragement the Bible gives us to be strong (and boy do we need it right now!).

Here are some qualities of true strength, as defined in the Bible, that you and your sons can cultivate:

  • A strong man looks to God, not within himself, for strength. (1 Sam. 17:37, Prov. 14:26, Prov. 18:10, Gen. 18:14, Matt. 9:26, Heb. 13:6, 1 John 4:4)
  • A strong man seeks God’s glory, not his own. (1 Sam. 17:45-47, Prov. 10:29, Hebrews 11)
  • A strong man is faithful, even in the smallest things. (1 Sam. 17:20-22)
  • A strong man is identified by the attitude of his heart, not the strength of his muscles (1 Sam. 17:32, Judges 16:16-17)
  • A strong man pursues wisdom by seeking counsel from wiser men and women. (Prov. 20:29, 24:5)
  • A strong man is grounded in God’s Word. (Ps. 1:2-3, Matt. 4:1-11, 1 John 1:14)
  • A strong man is self-controlled (Prov. 16:32)
  • A strong man uses his strength to serve others. (1 Chr. 19:12-14, 2 Chr 16:9, Rom. 15:1-3, 1 John 3:16)
  • A strong man is a channel for God’s strength because the Holy Spirit is at work in him. (1 Cor. 2:5 Eph. 3:14-17, Zech. 4:6, Judg. 15:14)
  • A strong man doesn’t fear trials, because God uses hardships to make him stronger. (2 Cor. 12:9-10, Heb. 12:11)
  • A strong man fights indwelling sin and will not allow Satan a foothold in his life. (Gen. 39:10, Heb. 12:1, Neh. 13:23-26)
  • A strong man perseveres and does not give up. (Prov. 24:10, Gal. 6:9, Heb. 12:1-4)

These biblical qualities of true strength came out of the Bible studies in Because You Are Strong. If you want to study godly strength with your sons, reading the above Bible verses together would make a great Bible study in itself.

Also, I want to recommend Mark Atteberry’s book, The Samson Syndrome. I just finished reading this thoroughly biblical, highly practical study of Samson’s life, written by a pastor with many years of counseling experience. Atteberry exposes common pitfalls that cause strong men to stumble and shows how we can avoid these mistakes and reach the full potential God has for our lives.

May God make each of us stronger as we seek the true strength that is found in Him!

Photo credit

Daniel Forster is married to Katelyn, father to three little ones, and the manager of Doorposts Publishing near Portland, Oregon. He graduated from homeschooling in 2002, and is now getting excited about homeschooling his own kids. He enjoys reading, writing, playing fiddle, working outdoors, and spending time with his family. Daniel contributes to the blog Doorposts of Your House and is the author of Prepare Thy Work and Because You Are Strong.

Investing In Time

Investing in Time

Many years ago, back when we were just homeschooling our two older boys, I was walking with my wife through the book fair of our state convention. In a corner booth, I saw an old friend—the Bible flannel-board set I remembered from Sunday School.

If you didn’t grow up in that kind of church, this was a favorite visual aid in the younger grades. There was a background scene, printed on fuzzy felt, which showed a band of sky over a deep blue ocean. Overlays could change the landscape to a lakeshore, a riverside, or even a desert. The teacher could then illustrate the Bible lesson with figures and props, printed on the same material, which she’d stick up on the background as the story unfolded. And here they were, just like I remembered them!

Since we had four kids under 8 years old, I thought this would be a great addition to our family devotions and morning Bible times. The booth even offered a smaller-scale set for home use.

Then I had a brilliant idea. There were actually two options; you could sign-and-drive the whole set for about $150, but if you bought the printed material uncut, you could take it home for just $90. All you had to do was trim the figures before you needed to use them.

Not only was this an immediate saving, but I was in the middle of a job change and living away from my family during the week. I could do this little bit of finishing work in the evenings in front of the TV, since I was by myself anyway. The timing was perfect.

So I bought the set, proud of my economy as well as my forward-thinking spiritual leadership.

Ahem.

Do you have any idea how many people there are in the Bible?

Or how many objects they handled?

Oh my word.

Those four little boys are all licensed drivers now, and three of them have left home for college, but there are still Bible figures imprisoned side-by-side in their fuzzy felt sheets. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when I got home, I found I’d bit off more than I was prepared to manage. I’ll cheerfully set off to read a 400-page book, but I didn’t have the patience to cut out 400 fabric people.

It was an important lesson for me. My time and attention are worth something, and sometimes worth more than money. It would have been a better investment for me to spend another $60 and have a usable tool for our family, than to launch a project I was capable of doing but which didn’t match my temperament and motivation.

And here’s the rub: the same thing is true for our wives’ time. We might be able to point to our paycheck and say, “My time is worth $15 or $25 or $150 an hour—I really shouldn’t be doing this particular task.” But my beloved friend who stays home to care for our children, without a paycheck to brandish, has valuable time and attention as well. Who else will nurse our babies? Who is going to train up our children? Who will make this house a home and a safe harbor for our whole family?

If I can put out a few dollars to free up my wife’s time, it’s a good investment. It may mean buying paper plates or installing a second-hand dishwasher I found on Craig’s List. It might mean running by McDonald’s on the way home from work on the really busy day of the week. Or it might mean encouraging her to buy curriculum and workbooks which make school time go smoother for her and the kids—even if it isn’t the cheapest alternative.

Reducing the frustration and drudgery in her life may give her more time to exercise her unique gifts, whether it’s cooking, or counseling, or investigative journalism, or managing a business … all of which my wife has done.

Meanwhile, I look at the charming young daughters God gave us, now about the age those little boys were then, as they cut out their paper dolls and folded snowflakes. I wonder … can they count to 400?

Replacing Fear with Love

replacing fear with love

The day will come when you simply cannot impose your will on your son.  It may be when he reaches his middle teen years, or when he towers over you in height.  It could be because of your age.  Whatever the case, when that day arrives, what will you do then?

For years, we father our children based on our physical size or the volume of our voice.  I can remember getting my children’s attention simply by using a deeper or sterner voice.  I’m not really talking about raising my voice or yelling, but rather just changing the tenor.  They knew what I was saying was important for them to hear.

Or it can be a look that catches their attention.  Sitting across the table when they are goofing off or being impolite, “the look” can bring things back to order.  Perhaps you’ve seen their reaction.  They straighten up, lower their voice, lower their eyes and continue their meal; task accomplished, order restored, and another peaceful meal in the books.

It can seem as if much of our time centers on getting our children to do what we instruct them or desire them to do.  We love them.  We want what is best for them.  We want to protect them from danger.  So our motivation is generally good.  But as they grow and begin to develop their own personalities (and will), our motivations can change.  There are times when we are more concerned about our own reputations or whether they are an embarrassment to us.  Those can be times that really test us.  Imposing our will on our sons in those situations can cause a lot of stress and conflict in our relationship.

Think about what I have briefly described.  What is the tool we are using to get our sons to behave or submit or obey?

It’s fear, isn’t it?

After all, a small dose of fear can go a long way toward getting the behavior that we expect, right?

Scripture even tells us that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

…but it’s only the beginning place.  Scripture also tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear.”  Even the fear that was at the beginning of our relationship with our Father is cast out by His perfect love.  Once we are a son of God, He never uses fear to get us to behave or submit or obey.  His love has cast the fear away and only love motivates His actions toward us.

Could it be the reason our Father doesn’t impose his will on us is because he wants us to know how much he loves us, so that we desire his will instead?

When the day comes that you can no longer impose your will on your son, wouldn’t it be great if he desired your will because he knew how much you loved him?

This may be a totally new concept for you.  If so, please give it some time for prayer and thought.  Maybe you have been wrestling with this concept for some time now.  Let me know if I can help you as you walk through recognizing just how much your Father really loves you.

 

Photo Credit

Be a Man (at home)

Be a Man (at home) ~www.boydads.com

One of the toughest places to be a man is at home.

I meet (and know) lots of guys who work hard, love to play hard, shoot guns, hunt, change their own oil, and watch Braveheart every Friday night. None of these are bad.  The danger is when we as men, fail to be men, at home.

I grew up on the media of the late 80’s and 90’s.  That era gave rise to shows like the Simpsons, Roseanne, and Married with Children…  all of these depicting men as socially inept and goofy at best!  The wife is seen as intelligent, in charge, and leading the home.  The man, showing spotty signs of wisdom, is mostly walked on and disrespected by the wife and kids.

Today, a lot of men are left wondering, “What is a man supposed to be and do?” Ephesians 5:21-31 provides a fundamental passage for understanding how a man (father and husband) is to lovingly lead his family.  In verse 23, Paul says, “For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.

The word for “head” is a word that has been hotly debated for quite some time (and will continue to be). Numerous people from various camps have spilled much ink over attempting a correct interpretation. Sadly, many men believe this verse gives them the freedom to be authoritarian dictators of their home. They believe headship is about “ruling over.”

While both men and women are of equal worth and dignity in God’s eyes, I believe that each has a unique role.  Gender is not by accident, but by design.  Just as Adam was given spiritual responsibility in the garden, so Jesus comes to redeem man’s role to lovingly lead his home.  Leading is not about ruling over, but rather, it is about being spiritually responsible for your wife and family.

Men are given the charge to be responsible for their family by leading spiritually, loving sacrificially, suffering graciously, and pursuing Jesus faithfully (Ephesians 5:25-29; Ephesians 6:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

As Gary Ricucci very simply states, “The role of a husband (father) doesn’t begin at the altar – it begins with the atonement.”

Below are just a few simple questions to help evaluate if you are a father and husband who is spiritually leading at home:

Who initiates spiritual growth in your family?

Who in your family is eager to serve at church, get involved in a Bible study, seek out biblical wisdom, or discuss spiritual things? Are we just along for the ride or leading the charge?

Who initiates spiritual guidance in your family?

Who takes responsibility for teaching your children?  Who is the one to suggest or make sure time in God’s Word is happening as a family?  Are you helping your children stay focused on God’s Wisdom?

Who initiates discipline with your children when necessary?

By discipline I do not mean punishment.  Who is the first to lovingly guide and correct your child’s heart and behavior?  Do you try to stay out of conflict, or are you fully engaged in helping to guide your children’s step so they grow to walk in wisdom?

God has called you to lovingly lead your family!  By His grace and the power of His Spirit, He’s also given you everything you need.  Keep pressing on as you seek to be spiritually responsible for your family.

Blessings,

Pat, www.thedigforkids.com